Come Together: "Nick Danger"

Andy MacDougall interviews ‘Nick Danger, screen printer-at-large, somewhere in China’ on how he’s been affected by COVID-19.

Welcome to the new, online version of Shop Talk. We only scratched the surface of this deadly itch we call COVID-19 in the April/May issue. Here, we’ll give you exclusive access to reports from printers around the globe. I sent out the quote from “A Tale of Two Cities” – best of times, worst of times – as a starting point to get things going. 

These are not reporters, and this is not Fox News or CNN. This correspondence is from the heart, from screen printers just like you who are living through this pandemic in various regions around the globe. It touches all of us and it’s not going away anytime soon. I found their stories fascinating. I hope you do, too.

We’re going to take a little while to get all the reports online over the coming weeks, so bookmark us, come back anytime 24/7,  and let’s get going.

First off, I want to introduce the people who have contributed so far. Although I live on Vancouver Island in Canada, my “Have Squeegee, Will Travel” philosophy has helped me connect with some interesting characters, all deeply involved in this crazy thing we have in common. They work in small shops and large. They represent the three pillars of screen: textile, graphic, and functional print. One of them is a former chairman of SGIA, another runs a boutique shop on a side street in Barcelona. They all have ink running through their veins. They are all my brothers and sisters of the squeegee. These are their stories:

Iris Sautier, owner, La Bourgeoise Sérigraphe, Montreal, Canada. Originally from Switzerland, Iris has a background in graphic design and turned a fascination with screen printing into a unique studio that mixes workshops and training with a co-op feel and is a go-to place for design firms and other clients to get unique printing on a wide range of materials.

Gemma Berenguer, owner, Monostereo, Barcelona, Spain. Dynamite in a small package doesn’t begin to describe Gemma, she’s a leader in the European gig poster movement, with a background in screen printing technology, a love of music, and an enthusiasm for life and printing that is contagious. She conducts workshops in Europe and North Africa, as well as printing demonstrations in Europe, USA, and Mexico.

Edward Cook, CEO, ECIscreenprint, Watertown, Connecticut. Past chairman of SGIA, Ed started in one room in 1991 and now runs an electronics printing company that puts the function in functional printing. His ECI creates interfaces, controls, and circuitry for a range of clients including industrial, military, consumer products, food equipment, and avionics. 

Michel Caza, owner, Michel Caza Consulting, Champagne-sur-Oise, France. The grand old man of fine detail screen printing around the world, his pioneering work with fine detail, UV, and many other processing steps used in screen and digital printing are used by his legions of students all over the world. He is a founder and past president of FESPA, a Parmele award winner, and winner of more than 350 awards for fine art prints. 

Luther Davis, Master Printer, Brooklyn, New York. Luther is Director of the Powerhouse Arts Print Program. Luther also teaches printmaking at Parsons School of Design and The Cooper Union. From 1999 to 2016 he was the master printer and director of Axelle Editions, a fine art print atelier specializing in screen printing that produced more than 300 editions a year with more than 100 artists.

Ahmed Bautista, El Jefe at Mercadorama, Mexico City. Ten years ago, Ahmed gathered a small group of artists who shared his passion for music and started a merch and tour support company. It grew through the years, adding in-house textile and poster printing, cut and sew, and logistics/event sales staff. Until a few months ago, Mercadorama supplied all these items to festivals, touring bands, and other events in Mexico, Central & South America, USA, Canada, and Europe.

Nick Danger, Screen printer-at-large, Somewhere in China. As a young man, our correspondent printed circuit boards for Apple back when production still took place in the Silicon Valley. Shaped in part by this experience, plus the fumes and a steady diet of Firesign Theatre (look it up) on the midnight shift, he followed the squeegee trail back to the land where legend says it began. He runs a “small” screen printing operation in China. And Vietnam. And Cambodia. That sports team shirt you’re wearing? They probably made it. 

We’re going to start with Nick’s reply to “Best of Times, Worst of Times,” seeing as this whole thing began in China. Then give you an exclusive first person account of how the quarantine system works there. Take it away Nick.

“We now have the time to do the things we said we could do, if we only had the time.” -N.D.

“As I climbed aboard my Shanghai flight, destined to Los Angeles, to attend the 2020 Imprinted Sportswear Expo in Long Beach, little did I know at the time how the pandemic would unfold over the next few days/weeks/months. In fact, I very well could have been unaware that I was a ‘carrier’ of COVID-19. That was a little over four months ago. I have now returned to China and back to work in our factory for almost three weeks.

Without question, our massive, large-scale operation has been impacted. Orders have been canceled while completed goods for shipments have been requested to be placed in the warehouse awaiting a possible shipment date in the future. Our overseas expansions have come to a halt and, at the same time, our modernization and automation projects seem relatively far less important than they did before. Our priorities have shifted dramatically!

So, as it’s been said, out of the ashes rises the Phoenix! We now have the time to do the things we said we could do, if we only had the time. Having this convenience of time being on our side, we have cocooned and entered our phase of metamorphosis in terms of creativeness and innovation. We are rapidly adopting a new mindset, shared by our good friend and colleague, Mark Coudray, ‘Reset, Retool and Restart.’ One example is, being a global apparel manufacturer, we have been presented with new opportunities such as becoming the manufacturer of face covers. Several other buds of creativity are blossoming from our art design and screen print processes for apparel decoration as well.”

Following is Nick’s eye-opening account of China’s quarantine procedures and how they have started to re-open their society on a day-to-day basis. 

Arriving in China

“Upon my entry back into China on March 11, it was a surreal scene arriving at PuDong international airport. Our plane parked on the tarmac and as I looked out the window, I saw 10 Chinese health officials dressed all in bunny suits and full hazmat gear approaching the plane and walked up the stairs, not a jet-way. Our flight was via Taiwan, as no direct flights were allowed into China. It was probably 40 percent occupied. I was one of eight passengers who were first summoned by the health officials at the doorway. They took my temperature as I answered several questions related to my health and travel history. From there, we were escorted onto a bus while we waited for several other passengers to deplane. All while making sure proper social distancing was being maintained. Once inside the terminal, we were directed to several counters where about 50 workers in bunny suits were asking similar but different questions as to health, travel history, and again, temperature reading.

The App

“During this processing, I was asked to download an app, which my phone has still, providing me with a ‘green code’ that also tracks my whereabouts in China and indicates if I have come in close contact with persons who were infected or became infected – a serious big brother tracking device! From there, I went through the normal rigors of Passport Control, baggage claim, and customs clearance until I came out the other side  into a very surreal and somber atmosphere, quiet, empty. I found my driver and began the three hour journey home to Ningbo.

Reunited with the family

“Simultaneously, my family, who had been locked down in Suzhou, was on their way to meet up with me once I arrived home to an uncertain situation of a government-ordered 14 day ‘house arrest’ quarantine. Only because they had come into contact with me, the dirty, infected, virus-carrying foreigner from USA, they were also subject to the same 14 day ‘house arrest’ quarantine. Luckily for us, my company had purchased some basic provisions in terms of rice, vegetables, fruits, and those necessities. Once everyone arrived to the house, we called the government officials to the house to greet us. At the door, they took more information and passport numbers and told us under no circumstances we were to leave the house otherwise, imprisonment was the consequence. They closed the door and placed a "sticker/seal" across the door as an indicator to prove it hadn’t been opened. A bit draconian but also very effective.

Quarantine

“During those 14 days, we were required to take and report our body temperatures twice a day for the three of us. Other than that, it was a bit like the Bill Murray movie ‘Ground Hog Day’ where each day seems to repeat itself. I spent a great deal of my time working with my 11-year-old son with his e-learning homework on subjects he needed some help with. His previous educational experience had not required much interaction on the computer and as a result of e-learning, it became an almost full-time utilized device. I was able to guide him through what it takes to write good emails, download files, organize folders, and spend time working in Photoshop and Illustrator for his IT and art classes. It was very much a copy-paste situation: routine schedules of three meals a day, homework, and some form of entertainment be it YouTube or DVDs.

Lifting the quarantine

“Two days before our 14 day completion, we were required to be swabbed for COVID-19 testing. That was yet another surreal event driving to a ‘hospital’ knowing very well the virus would be there. We were fully gloved, masked, and terrified, standing in line with several others who were to be tested. Once swabbed, we made a slow drive home as we went to the supermarket to gather items to whip up a fantastic spaghetti, salad, and garlic bread and a bottle of red. Two days later we got the good news: we were negative and received Green Code Hard ID cards, which connect with your apps showing we are no risk. These have now become requirements to enter anywhere from a shopping mall, Starbucks, or any other place of business, still to this day.

A cautious return to work

“Currently, they have released 11 million Wuhan people (Wuhanians) from their lockdown and those folks are returning back to their lives. Several of them are workers who need to return to their places of employment, including our factory in Ningbo. With that comes the fear of a second wave. We hear cases of those who have been infected becoming re-infected and that's not a comforting feeling. Another interesting caveat is Ningbo is the second largest deep water port in China and, as a result, we have many large international ships docking here. With those came several infected passengers (merchant marines) who sought medical aid and were transported to our local area hospitals and medical care centers. So, although we are climbing out of this slowly and cautiously, there remains a great deal of practical social distancing and mask wearing to prevent or control this invisible enemy.”

I had one last question for Nick. “Do all the people at your work have the green card and the app now? What about the general population?

“So the one -word simplified answer is: Absolutely! In fact, we will be having a five-day National Holiday coming up next week (Chinese Labor Day) and as I said, even though things are ‘getting back to normal,’ we are still cautious. So much so that if I was to travel beyond my province (state) I will be required to have another 14 day QT upon my return home. They know where I go and where I've been thanks to my tracking device on my phone. If I were to leave my phone at home, I cannot travel into another area or any place of business without showing my Green Code on my device; again, draconian but so very effective. 

I still have my temperature taken when I enter the gate at our corporate headquarters when I go to meetings, when I return to our print factory (three kilometers away), or visit any of our other sewing or manufacturing operations such as knitting, sewing, and dyeing… strict controls!! We take it very, very seriously! In fact, while we do, upon occasion, stray off our healthy diet, my son and I enjoy tossing down a burger now and then. While McD's and BK are not gourmet, our choices are limited. My point being, when our food is ‘delivered’ to our house the body temps of any worker who handled or prepared and the courier who delivers the food are indicated on the receipt which comes with the meal...take that USA!!”

Stay tuned for more as we work our way around the world. For now, stay healthy, stay safe, stay kind.

Other Articles in the "Come Together" Series

Come Together (original article)

Come Together: Edward Cook